Here's an extract from a readable and sympathetic biography of Calvin:
Music, that deceitful power, should be put to the service of the text and the Word, illustrating them and not obscuring their meaning. "All evil speech..., when accompanied by music, pierces the heart much more strongly and enters into it in such a way that, just as wine is poured into a vessel from a funnel, so also venom and corruption are distilled to the bottom of the heart by melody."
Calvin analysed the double potential effect of music, at once destructive and creative, on a sensibility whose dangerous instability he perceived, an instabilty that would shortly reveal itself to be fundamental to baroque psychology.
Bernard Cottret, Calvin. A Biography, (Edinburgh:T&TClark, 1995), pages 173-4.
There is a pastoral realism and cultural awareness about Calvin that is annoyingly inconvenient for those who simply want to dismiss him as either cultural philistine or theological bogey man. When Calvin's shortcomings are acknowledged, and the problems of his thought aired, he remains a theological source and resource for a church desperately looking for its voice, and struggling to remember the words that articulate the Word. For all our fascination with relevance, our accommodation to the postmodern mindset, our neglect of transcendent mystery in favour of the accessible and experiential, the contemporary Church often enough lacks a sense of its own calling to bear witness to the Eternal, to see the world as the theatre of God's glory, and to understand its own vocation as the Body of Christ which embodies the Word it proclaims in repentance, faith and the fear of God.
One remedy, astringent and at times uncomfortable, is to include the voice of Calvin in the conversations the Church must always have between surrounding prevailing culture, its own diverse theological traditions, and the innovative impulses of a Church so anxious to be missionally relevant that it can fail at the level of its own vocational integrity as the community of Christ. Missional relevance itself can be driven by the Church's survival instinct as much as by Gospel imperatives - Calvin's theology of divine sovereignty, built on the centrality of the Word, is a necessary corrective.
This year is the 400th anniversary of Calvin's birth, on 10th July 1509. I'm going to celebrate it by reading his sermons on Ephesians. However, Calvin is only the second most important person born on July 10 - that's also my mother's birthday!
The portrait of Calvin above is less severe than some of the more popular ones on book covers. And given the sheer volume and quality of Calvin's written output - what would he have done if the quill had been replaced with a keyboard?